Tourist Distractions: Traveling and Feeling in Transnational Hallyu Cinema

Tourist Distractions: Traveling and Feeling in Transnational Hallyu Cinema

by Youngmin Choe


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In Tourist Distractions Youngmin Choe uses hallyu (Korean-wave) cinema as a lens to examine the relationships among tourism and travel, economics, politics, and history in contemporary East Asia. Focusing on films born of transnational collaboration and its networks, Choe shows how the integration of the tourist imaginary into hallyu cinema points to the region's evolving transnational politics and the ways Korea negotiates its colonial and Cold War past with East Asia's neoliberal present. Hallyu cinema's popularity has inspired scores of international tourists to visit hallyu movie sets, filming sites, and theme parks. This tourism helps ease regional political differences; reimagine South Korea's relationships with North Korea, China, and Japan; and blur the lines between history, memory, affect, and consumerism. It also provides distractions from state-sponsored narratives and forges new emotional and economic bonds that foster community and cooperation throughout East Asia. By attending to the tourist imaginary at work in hallyu cinema, Choe helps us to better understand the complexities, anxieties, and tensions of East Asia's new affective economy as well as Korea's shifting culture industry, its relation to its past, and its role in a rapidly changing region. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822361305
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 03/24/2016
Pages: 264
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Youngmin Choe is Assistant Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Southern California and the coeditor of The Korean Popular Culture Reader, also published by Duke University Press.

Read an Excerpt

Tourist Distractions

Traveling and Feeling in Transnational Hallyu Cinema

By Youngmin Choe

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2016 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-7434-3



Pornography and Travel in Kazoku Cinema and Asako in Ruby Shoes

Park Chul-soo's Kazoku Cinema (Family Cinema), released in November 1998, was the first film collaboration between Japan and South Korea sanctioned by the cultural liberalization policies implemented by South Korea in October that year, following President Kim Dae-jung's historic visit to Japan. As stated in Kim and the Japanese prime minister Keizo Obuchi's 1998 "joint declaration," the first of these new policies initiated a series of liberalizing measures permitting the import of Japanese popular culture, essentially lifting a ban created after the liberation of Korea from Japanese colonial rule in 1945. Following on the heels of this historic event and coinciding with the early moments of hallyu's emergence, Kazoku Cinema was released as the first Korean film to be shot entirely in Japan and in Japanese. Adapted from a novel by the Korean-Japanese author Yu Miri that had won the Akutagawa Literary Award in Japan, the film marked the first time Japanese actors were allowed to star in a Korean film directed by a Korean. The casting reflects the occasion: the Korean-Japanese actor and theatrical director Kim Su-jin plays the director, Katayama; Yang Sok-il, a Korean-Japanese bestselling writer, plays the father (Soji Hayashi), alongside the veteran Japanese actress Hiroko Isayama; and Yu Eri, the younger sister of the novelist Yu Miri, plays the eldest daughter.

Appropriately, Kazoku Cinema is a self-reflexive film about the making of a film, which focuses on the struggles of a Korean-Japanese family (though the fact of their ethnicity is only briefly mentioned) as they attempt to overcome an abusive past during a painful reunion after twenty years of separation. The instigator of the plot is Katayama, a director who claims to be making a film concerned with atonement and familial reconciliation. But as he begins to shoot, the film within the film becomes farce, revealing his deeper desire: to make the private struggles of a family available for public entertainment. The film that the family agrees to create is an odd blend of improvised cinema verité, which often includes unheeded requests by the actors to turn off the camera, and scripted scenes based on the family's history, aspiring, in the words of one character, to go "beyond the boundary of documentary or fiction." Framed roughly around the reunion of a fractured family, the film within the film attempts to document both the family's attempt to make sense of their shared experiences and to explore together the prospect of reconciliation, which in turn serves as metaphor for the broader effort of cultural liberalization between Korea and Japan.

Though Katayama envisions the film, it is Yoko, the younger sister who is frustrated with her career as a pornography actor, who orchestrates the family's participation in it. Indeed, the film is her attempt to repair her degrading career with what she regards to be a more legitimate form of filmmaking. But Katayama, we soon realize, is more familiar with the pornographic than the documentary form, and the filming grows increasingly chaotic; it becomes unclear whether we are witnessing a fictionalized representation of the family's dissolution or, more pornographically, the thing itself. So despite the fact that the film Katayama directs is devoid of the explicitly pornographic scenes that have defined his career, the camera used to film the family's story retains a specific kind of prurience — one that takes a voyeuristic pleasure in witnessing physical exploitation and the imbalance of power between people. The intrusive prurience of the pornographic camera — witnessed in the opening scene of the film, with an unflattering depiction of the shooting of a pornography film — seems, in short, to abide in the family narrative that the film within the film takes as its subject.

The centrality of the pornographic camera in Kazoku Cinema parallels the more explicit prevalence of the trope in E J-yong's Asako in Ruby Shoes (Sunaebo, 2000), another of the earliest sanctioned Korea-Japan coproductions, and one carefully produced in accordance with cultural liberalization policies. The working title of the film was a provocative pun: Uri-nation, which plays both on the translation of uri from Korean to English as "our" (thus, "our nation") and on the English word urination and, in addition, evokes the male protagonist's name, U-in. This working title was eventually discarded, but the film nevertheless features a number of scenes that focus unblinkingly on urination and that foreground public toilets as a site of sexual voyeurism. This strange connection between fetish and nationalism, however, becomes most fully realized in the film's depiction of online pornography and, more specifically, in the unlikely relationship that flowers at the end of the film, in a scene of either coincidence or fate, between Aya, a young Japanese woman who performs for a pornography website, and U-in, a lonely young male Korean civil servant who becomes fascinated with her.

But as in Kazoku Cinema, sexual voyeurism becomes displaced into what becomes an intercultural preoccupation with the everyday lives of people separated by the various divisions and injunctions that have characterized Korea-Japan relations in the twentieth century. The pornography itself seems less about sexual stimulation and more about obtaining alternate views of daily life. And furthermore, what distracts characters from the banalities of daily life are ironically the same features of someone else's life across a national and cultural divide. So a common feature shared by these films is the way in which the pornographic, as a mode of tourist distraction, gets lodged into these new intercultural efforts, which function to interrupt a history of nationalist narratives that would contradict the new imperatives for transnational cooperation; pornography becomes an allegorical mode of historical reconciliation that foregrounds everyday banality. Intercultural appreciation of these prosaic scenes of ordinary life becomes recoded as a kind of muted pornographic titillation. Given all the careful policy making and government efforts to keep the process of postcolonial reconciliation on respectable terms, it is striking that collaborative filmmaking between Korea and Japan was resumed in such blatantly erotic terms. Though all pornographic images and intentions are rendered innocuous in the films, we still must ask why pornography is a central feature in these first coproductions. Why does pornography have an appeal in the context of reconciliation between two nations formerly in a colonial relationship? How does the pornographic intervene in postcolonial reconciliatory discourse?

Postcolonial Reconciliation and the Everyday

In the half-decade of postcolonial cultural reconciliation between South Korea and Japan — starting in 1998 and culminating with the 2002 FIFA World Cup — these first filmic coproductions, Kazoku Cinema and Asako in Ruby Shoes, focused on the display of quotidian culture (saenghwal munhwa) and family life. In its preoccupation with personal living environments and the interaction between people and objects within these spaces, for example, Asako in Ruby Shoes adopts a pseudoethnographic approach, juxtaposing the everyday feelings of isolation and loneliness in a pair of otherwise unremarkable characters. This interest in the quotidian reflects one of the goals of Korea's cultural liberalization policies: to familiarize young Koreans and Japanese with each other's private lives. As close neighbors, both governments believed, Koreans and Japanese should be able to relate to each other's daily existence; and the ability to visualize and observe how the other lived, government officials insisted and cultural critics believed, would lead to cross-cultural identification. Despite the fact that hallyu was not yet an explicit discourse when these films were produced, we see in them prototypes for the kind of affective work that the later films more explicitly perform.

The perception that Japan has impeded "genuine Asian reconciliation and regional communion" has long persisted in Korea, along with deep-rooted resentment over Japan's colonization of Korea and its reluctance to sufficiently redress the past. After the 1997 Asian financial crisis, however, Korea adopted a detailed program based on a legislative proposal, drafted in 1994 by the Ministry of Culture and Sports, entitled "Three-Stage Liberalization Policy on Japanese Popular Culture" ("Ilbon Taejung Munhwa 3 Tan'gye Kaebang Taech'aek"), with the purpose of overcoming long-standing obstacles to its bilateral relationship with Japan (such as the ban on the import of Japanese popular culture) as a part of larger Asianization ambitions. Although planned out in the early 1990s under the Kim Young-sam regime's discourse of globalization (or segyehwa, in Korean), under which Asianization was subsumed, Korea's "Japan Cultural Liberalization Program" really began to take shape and generate momentum amid the regional shift inward only after the Asian financial crisis of 1997–98 under newly elected President Kim Dae-jung (1997/8–2003). The 1998 joint declaration of cooperation was infused with a deep awareness of the connection between historical reconciliation and cultural commerce. The carefully worded statement contained Japan's "heartfelt apology" to Korea for its colonial past and included an endorsement of popular culture, among others, as a vehicle for reconciliatory efforts based in popular consensus. As much of the world seemed to embrace a global, competitive economy in order to promote mutual prosperity, the Korean government realized that the ban on cultural exchanges with one country, while allowing other countries free access, ran counter to the international forces of market liberalization and failed to meet global standards. The Korean government also sensed that economic security and progress in the Asia-Pacific region depended on cooperation between it and Japan. Thus, the deregulation of Japanese pop-culture imports was grounded in principles of caution and reciprocity, as part of a larger mutually beneficial cultural-exchange program between nations being advanced in northeast Asia.

These policies reshaped cultural and economic exchange according to new transnational urgencies rather than to old historical resentments; as a result, they prepared a new generation for a cosmopolitanism that would draw from the material conditions of globalization, the kind of cosmopolitanism, described by Scott Lash and John Urry, that would presuppose "extensive patterns of mobility, a stance of openness to others and a willingness to take risks, and an ability to reflect upon and judge aesthetically between different natures, places and societies, both now and in the past." The coproduced films I examine in this chapter indeed reflect what Kwame Anthony Appiah from a postcolonial stance has called a "rooted cosmopolitanism," which acknowledges the possibility of "cosmopolitan patriotism," in which people, both those who stay in their local culture and those who move away, "would accept the citizens' responsibility to nurture the culture and politics of their homes," while "taking pleasure from the presence of other, different, places that are home to other, different, people."

As Korea engaged Japan, the government also began to see the potential in the relationship between culture and tourism, previously thought of as unrelated. Seeking to promote openness through culture, the period of cultural liberalization coincided with a "New Culture and Tourism Policy," implemented from 1998 to 2002, and a campaign called "Contents Korea Vision 21: The Promotion of Cultural Content Industries Development," which emphasized the significance of content-based cultural industries, along with a slew of white papers pushing policies such as the "Basic Plan for Tourism Development in 2001." Reflecting this change in ethos, the government arm of the tourism industry was moved in 1994 from the Ministry of Transportation to the Ministry of Culture and Sports, which shifted emphasis from building infrastructure to promoting cultural content. All of these efforts worked in concert with similar initiatives elsewhere in Asia, including Japan's "Welcome Plan 21," Singapore's "Tourism 21: Vision of a Tourism Capital," and Hong Kong's "Hong Kong Tourism: Expanding the Horizons." The Japanese government also promoted tourism to South Korea in addition to cultural exchanges as part of upholding its commitment to the agreement of cooperation.

Not surprisingly, the films that emerged in these years reflect this new interest in culture, tourism, and the transnational. In Asako in Ruby Shoes, Aya looks at an old photograph in which she is standing in front of Kyongbok Palace, in Seoul, next to U-in, the stranger with whom she begins a relationship at the very end of the film (fig. 1.2). U-in is wearing a sash that marks him as part of what was known as the "Smile Campaign," in which civil servants were instructed to smile in public places around Seoul in order to make foreign tourists feel more welcome. In the film, the first chance meeting between Aya and U-in, as documented by these tourist snapshots, anticipates their second, face-to-face encounter, in Alaska, where both happen to travel to in the final moments of the film.

While we can indeed read both Kazoku Cinema and Asako in Ruby Shoes as allegories of reconciliation and positive cultural exchange, our emphasis on tourism links this heady new era of cooperation to the darker history of postcolonial tourism between Japan and Korea. In this respect, the incipient relationship between Aya and U-in at the end of Asako in Ruby Shoes uncannily reproduces the forms of tourism after Japan's liberalization of overseas travel in 1964, the normalization of Korea-Japan relations in 1965, and Korea's liberalization of overseas travel in 1989. Japanese tourism to Korea from the mid-1960s until the late 1970s was predominantly male and centered around sex tourism, often combined with business meetings, enabled not just by the Japanese but also by their Korean hosts, in spite of opposition both by women's groups and the Korean government. Known also as kisaeng (comparable to the Japanese geisha) tourism, this kind of sex tourism harkened back to colonial practices in yojong (establishments where kisaengs entertain; ryotei in Japanese) and epitomized the imperial consumption of the colony itself "as an object of desire."

The reconciliatory films I will examine extricate tourism between Korea and Japan from the colonial and postcolonial legacy that defined the relationship between the two nations in the twentieth century. But the persistence of the pornographic camera in these films, as they thematize travel within the context of changing attitudes about reconciliation, bind the contemporary flow of culture, capital, and tourists themselves precisely to the troubled history that these collaborations attempted to supersede. The abiding pornographic camera in popular cultural forms at this moment of political reconciliation preserves a strange element of exploitation in what professes to be a mutually beneficial relationship of collaboration and cooperation. Though these exploitative impulses are held in abeyance in these films, it is striking that the new modes of intercultural intimacy reproduce the scripts of colonial and postcolonial consumption in the very act of trying to move past them.

Open House

While Korea and Japan jointly hosted the 2002 World Cup, a pair of exhibitions were held simultaneously in Seoul and Osaka, aimed to foster Korean-Japanese intercultural identification by displaying the prosaic details of everyday life. The Seoul exhibition, entitled "Japan: Our Close Neighbor" and held at the National Folk Museum of Korea, was designed to make Japan understandable in intimate terms. The exhibition invited identification and empathy by emphasizing the most basic, everyday conditions of life in Japan, from the clothes people wore to the food they put on their tables to the houses in which they lived and slept (the exhibit was framed as a display of uishikchu, which roughly translates into "food, clothing, and housing"). Organizers hoped that such an exhibit would help lay to rest "old feelings" (mukun kamchong) regarding Japan, diminish a sense of "emotional remove" (korikam), as well as encourage mutual understanding of each other's "interior depths of the mind to the very bottom of the lifestyle."


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments  ix

Introduction. Distracted Attractions  1

Part I. Intimacy

1. Feeling Together: Pornography and Travel in Kazoku Cinema and Asako in Ruby Shoes  31

2. Affective Sites: Hur Jin-ho's April Snow and One Fine Spring Day  59

Part II. Amity

3. Provisional Feelings: The Making of Musa  89

4. Affective Palimpsests: Sudden Showers from Hwang Sun-won's "Sonagi" to Kwak Jae-yong and Andrew Lau's Daisy  112

Part III. Remembrance

5. Postmemory DMZ: Joint Security Area, Yesterday, and 2009 Lost Memories  143

6. Transient Monuments: Commemmorating and Memorializing in Taegukgi Korean War Film Tourism  166

Conclusion. K-hallyu: The Commodity Speaks in Kang Chul-woo's Romantic Island, Bae Yong-joon's A Journey in Search of Korea's Beauty, So Ji-sub's Road, and Choi Ji-woo's if  197

Notes  205

Bibliography  229

Index  241

What People are Saying About This

The Cinema of Hong Kong: History, Arts, Identity - David Desser

"This is a wonderful book—one of the most deftly written, soundly argued, and genuinely interesting monographs on Korean cinema and hallyu. Drawing from a number of disciplines, yet never forgetting the centrality of the filmic text through astute visual analysis, Youngmin Choe has produced a book for anyone and everyone at all interested in Korean cinema and culture."

Virtual Hallyu: Korean Cinema of the Global Era and In Search of Lost G - Kyung Hyun Kim

"Hallyu-lujah! This latest milestone raises the bar for hallyu studies both by cautiously analyzing several key texts of the recent renaissance of Korean films and by boldly tying it to the nationalist desires embedded in tourism. This pioneering book considers hallyu not as a commercial or artistic commodity, but as a regime of affective value. Tourist Distractions is an indispensable guide for anyone willing to enlarge their vision of not only Korea, but also of East Asia."

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